Hometown: New Hyde Park, Long Island, New York.
Title: Henderson Professor of Tropical Medicine, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Bowdoin Major: Biology
Bowdoin memory: Having a chance to talk about our work in sub-Saharan Africa on campus last June at our 45th Reunion (in Adams Hall, the building that housed the Maine medical school) was incredibly rewarding because of understanding and support from the alumni who were present for what we are trying to accomplish.
Greatest career influence: The most important early influences on my career were John Howland and Sam Butcher at Bowdoin (who gave me a fundamental understanding of both microbiology and chemistry), infectious disease training in Boston (which allowed me to relate basic science to human disease), and early overseas experiences in Haiti and Malawi in 1969-72 and 1973-75 (which made clear the limitations of 1:1 patient care in impoverished countries with overwhelming numbers of persons who have life-threatening illnesses).
Greatest challenge: The biggest challenge we have had is the one that we face now in the International Center of Excellence in Malaria Research (ICEMR) – moving from relatively traditional separate studies of the biology of malaria and field work to the long-overdue attempt to link modern molecular biology to malaria control in both sub-Saharan Africa and the laboratories of collaborators in the U.S., U.K., and other non-endemic areas.
Most rewarding aspect of job: Time spent working in the field and developing young African investigators is the most important and most rewarding aspect of our work. The human impact of tropical diseases in impoverished rural areas is unforgettable as is the gratitude of the people affected. They understand much more than one would expect about the transmission and control of those diseases, and are committed to support strategies to protect their children from those diseases. In the short-term, this forces one to prioritize the limited available resources. In the longer term, it drives the training of young African investigators qualified to take on these challenges in the future.
Travel: In the last year, I have spent 5 of 12 months in West Africa. My next trip to West Africa in January 2011 is to The Gambia, Senegal, and Mali.
On recent medical advancements: Genome sequencing has now become almost routine. However, the greatest surprise benefit of this breakthrough has been the success of the commitment to make this information broadly available via the Internet. This is an extraordinary accomplishment and provides an astounding example of a collective global scientific commitment.
Advice for students wishing to pursue a career in medicine: It’s wise to enter medical school without a fixed commitment to any one area or specialty. If you do so, there is a real risk that you will overlook important opportunities because you did not know about them and therefore failed to consider them in time. A second reason to avoid premature decisions is that careers in medicine evolve over time. Basic scientists change to public health, general practitioners become residency program directors and epidemiologists become basic scientists in order to understand genetic predispositions to disease. The increasing frequency of career changes supports the value of a broad background before beginning medical training.
To relax: My wife Fran (we married one week after I graduated from Bowdoin) and I enjoy bird watching, especially when we are overseas. I play golf when I can on the weekends, although not well enough to be serious, and enjoy learning about foreign cultures and languages. (Unwritten local languages and illiteracy have been major challenges in our work in West Africa.)
Posted March 07, 2011